“Long live the beautiful cities we’ve created, the countryside we’ve inherited and the space in between”
Spain is a noisy country. Bachelors and costumed friends celebrate last evenings of solitary life well into the late mornings, kids shout and cry, dogs bark at litter picked up in a passing breeze. Densely built apartments offer sound-bites into a neighbour’s habits, not always as pleasant to the ear as their Wednesday evening guitar class. After spending a year in Granada, Andalucía, Barcelona’s tourists, gibbering, bells, birds and appliances don’t surprise me. And as the latter is about six times more populated than Granada, hence it stands to reason that there would be six times more of everything, especially noise.
There is something very creative and intoxicating in the car(e)-free street life of Barcelona, yet I find myself marveling at living in a city as different from the one that I grew up in, Calgary in Canada, as Heavy Metal is to Debussy. Some aspects I adore, like the urban bike culture, strong sense of community in the barrios and the activist youth, and others are harder to get used to, like the noise, dirt and lack of parks within the coast-lined metropolis. Childhood expectations can be hard to forget when you grew up next to a wild, Provincial park :)
So, it is was with great excitement that I scheduled, into what is becoming an increasingly busy life, a 3.5-day bike retreat away from the big city. Barcelona may house half of Catalunya’s population but it’s not the end all be all to discovering this new region of my adopted country. Mountains of all ranges, tiny towns with ancient churches, fields of olive groves and vineyards await, and my Catalan experience would not be complete with: (insert long list of natural parks and historical towns recommended by local friends here!). That’s the official reason, anyway. Potential solitude, quiet and a reconnection with nature were my real motivations behind my somewhat reckless abandonment of Barcelona, which I claimed as “home” only three weeks ago.
All regional trains accept bicycles, and at no extra charge, so within 90 minutes we were out of the metropolis and in the campo. I was commencing the journey with 2 other cycling friends, and via train we headed out to the region roughly north-west of former Catalan capital Tarragona, starting out at the town of Bonastre.
From there we would complete a smaller loop through Montferri, and I would continue on my own to the Prades mountains, passing through Valls, Alcover and staying for a night at a beautiful refugio (litteraly: shelter) in Mont-rel. From there, short visits to Prades and Vimbodí before returning, via train, to Barcelona.
As an aside:
Kilometers cycled: ~100km; elevation gain: ~1000m. First two excursions were short trips w friends, circling around neighbouring towns and stopping often for snacks and drinks. The third and fourth days, again on my own and in full memory of my recent trans-continental bike travels, I pushed myself too hard and too fast and didn’t get far because of it. Similar to driving a fully-gassed car in the scorching desert and being obliged to stop, toss water on the hood and engine to stay the steam… So my engines too overheated in the +40C, open skies and dry air, conditions. I had all the necessary fuel in my legs, but my heart, pumping blood so fast that I thought it would jump clear of my ribs, demanded that I stop every few uphill kilometers to rest. A sore miscalculation on my part, but with a sigh and a mild shrug of the shoulders, what could I do? Even if I had encountered similar heat conditions in Bulgaria and Turkey back in July it would seem that heat tolerance leaves a cyclist much sooner than leg strength. When I realized that my head-spinning, general weakness and occasional nausea were not subsiding (no matter how much I ate or drank), I knew that it was wiser to hold off than push myself to no end. The third day I did about 60km, the fourth only 20km.
Also, dare I voice this opinion… it’s possible I haven’t quite recovered my strengths after the big ride!
Anyways, back to the main story…
They say that once you learn how to ride a bike you’ll always know how. I’d venture to add that once you learn how to travel by bike, that skill, once acquired, will also stay with you for life.
Although a month has passed since I cycled into Istanbul and completed the Ride to Read fundraiser tour, a time in which I’ve biked very little, choosing instead to dabble in yoga, pilates and other activities left neglected for too long, I found myself organizing gear and cycling as if I had been doing it all my life. Was it really that easy to pick up and go? Could it be possible, that once you have all the necessary gear and savvy you really can pack-up in half an hour to escape for a few days (or more!!) of adventure… And do so, quite literally, at the drop of a hat?! (Or, should I say, a helmet) ;)
It would seem so!
As I watched my contentment soar, with the perfect pavement underneath my wheels and forest cover all around me, I understood that this would be my saving grace. It was so easy to leave the big city behind and get back on the saddle. Not to commute attentively within the urban structure, but to truly be back on the road again, hitting an even cadence, climbing up and flying down the hills with the biggest smile on my lips and pure satisfaction in my heart. If I have this, I think to myself, than I can fully enjoy, and tolerate, all the Barcelonas that life may toss my way :)
Hope you enjoy the photos from the trip!
With cycling love,